Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feb. 29, 2012, Issue #176




1. A marvelous new photograph of Mother Earth, taken by NASA in January, is at It should remind us that since this is the only home we have, with the only air we breathe, we must protect it, particularly from human sources of destruction.

2. We thank the hundreds of readers who have invited us to join Facebook and Linkedin over the past few months — but we are not ready to partake of this form of social media. Perhaps we will put the newsletter on Facebook some day, if we ever learn how, but that'll be it.


During presidential election years, some Democrats fume when a progressive commentator or writer criticizes their candidate from the left, not because the ccritic is wrong but that it "helps the Republicans." A few weeks ago, a Democrat watching the Bill Moyers hour-long weekly TV program called the show to complain because Moyers, a lifelong liberal Democrat, was critical of the Obama Administration for going too easy on corporate malfeasance. He replied on air the next week:

"It’s not our role as journalists to help elect the candidate you like, or defeat the one you don’t like. Our job is to help you see what you may have missed. There’s always more than meets the eye. So keep that in mind throughout this election year. We’ll leave the horserace mostly to others — while we do our best to throw some light on what’s really at stake."

By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter

What's the Obama Administration's latest position on the possibility of an attack on Iran? It seems to be in flux but the White House is reported to be urging Israel not to start a war before the November elections.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says there is a "strong possibility" that Israel will attack Iran in either April, May, or June. The purpose would be to destroy Iran's alleged building of a nuclear weapon, an assertion Tehran rejects, pointing to strong support for its position from authoritative American sources.

Commenting on Panetta report, an Associated Press dispatch Feb. 25 declared: "An Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear sites could draw the U.S. into a new Middle East conflict, a prospect dreaded by a war-weary Pentagon wary of new entanglements... with unpredictable outcomes."

Foreign policy theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter with links to the Obama White House, told CNN Feb. 24 that if Israel attacks Iraq, "it will be disastrous for us in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the terms of oil, but also in the Middle East more generally."

On Feb. 28 AP reported "Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities."

The U.S. is in daily communication with Israel about the matter. President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold discussions with warhawk Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5.

In the midst of this gathering war talk there are indications Washington does not want Israel to start a war at this juncture for several reasons:

• The Obama Administration believes bombing Iran's nuclear facilities will cause far more problems than it solves, and that the more effective policy is composed of sanctions, spying and subversion, leading to regime change if possible.

• Washington is hesitant to get any deeper into a potential Iran quagmire at a time when Afghanistan is blowing up in its face, and while the U.S. is involved behind the scenes in ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.

• The White House does not want a new war on its hands during the last few months of an election campaign. The Wall St. Journal online pointed out Feb. 28 that "Iran and its nuclear intentions are rapidly emerging as the ultimate wild card in this year's presidential race."

In any event, President Obama and the entire U.S. national security bureaucracy know very well that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.

The New York Times published a relatively sensational front page article Feb. 25 about Iran and the bomb that was based largely on authoritative information clearing Iran of bomb-making charges.

These facts have been publicly available for five years, but because the Bush and Obama Administrations sought to minimize the significance of the bombshell reports most Americans knew little of their importance

The Times' headline read: "U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb." The article disclosed:

"American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies."

The article also reported on some unusually honest statements made in the last few weeks by Obama Administration officials:

"In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

The fact that the Times decided to publish a front page article based on largely dated information undermining the rationale for attacking Iran evidently means the ruling elite is leaning on the White House to avoid one more war that could backfire during the election campaign.

Published in the same issue of The Times was a new statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is producing additional enriched uranium inside a deep underground site — a report that the right wing Netanyahu regime distorted to signify that Iran is one step closer to creating a weapon with which to threaten the existence of Israel.

There was no proof the uranium in question was intended for any purpose other than Iran's civilian nuclear program. Iran is working with the UN on an agreement to allow inspectors into all sites associated with the program.

Given the immense U.S. and Israeli spying apparatus inside Iran, as well as America's extensive surveillance abilities — from spy satellites to drone flights and probable access to every telephone call and Internet message in Iran — it is significant no evidence has been collected to verify the bomb-making accusations. The 16 American intelligence agencies seem to know what they are talking about.

This does not impress warhawks in the U.S. Congress and among anti-Iranian organizations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who are working to push Washington toward greater confrontations with Tehran. Several right wing Senators introduced a bill in mid-February lowering the threshold for a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran from making a bomb to possessing the ability to do so.

Iran insists it is not producing or about to produce nuclear weapons, and maintains that its nuclear power program is essentially in compliance with the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. Israel is known to possess at least 200 nuclear weapons and delivery systems while ignoring the treaty.

Tehran has long called for transforming the Middle East into a nuclear-free zone — a proposition opposed by both Obama and Netanyahu. Ironically, Washington is on exceptionally close terms with the three countries in possession of large nuclear arsenals that have thumbed their noses at the NonProliferation Treaty — Israel, Pakistan and India — even to the point of assisting them to maintain and update their weaponry.

In a statement Feb. 28, Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi declared that "We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons; quite the opposite." He then referred to a religious decree issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme authority within the Islamic Republic of Iran, that termed "the production possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons are illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin."

United States animosity toward Iran — which has existed since America's puppet monarch in Tehran was overthrown  over 30 years ago — has nothing to do with Tehran's alleged efforts to construct nuclear weapons. It is instead primarily based on Washington's intention to exercise unimpeded domination of the Persian Gulf region, in which perhaps 30% of the world's petroleum originates and is transported through the Gulf.

America has sought hegemony over the Middle East, and particularly the Persian Gulf, for several decades. This goal was a principle reason President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003 to solidify U.S. control of the Gulf, believing a quick victory would pave the way toward toppling the government in Iran. The Iraqi fightback and the subsequent stalemate destroyed Bush's plans. Since Baghdad had long been Tehran's main enemy, the only country to benefit from Bush's neoconservative folly in Iraq was Iran.

Iran is now the principal power within the Persian Gulf region. Tehran has had a sharp rhetorical critique of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia for decades but is not using that power to threaten or attack any other country. Tehran's military is not large, and is defensive in structure and intention.

But as long as the Islamic Republic refuses to subordinate itself to imperial Washington it remains an obstacle to America's geopolitical ambitions, which are based on retaining global hegemony.

A main reason for the Obama Administration's cruel and ever-tightening economic sanctions is to bring about regime-change in Iran to situate a client administration in Tehran. If this doesn't work, the threat of military action is obviously implicit in President Obama's mantra about  "No option is off the table." For the immediate future, however, the White House appears to prefer sanctions, spying and subversion to the potential unintended consequences of a U.S. or Israeli bombing attack on Iran.

The ANSWER Coalition reports:
(1) In New York City Thursday, March 1, there will be a 5 p.m. demonstration opposing an attack on Iran in front of the offices of the Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68th  St. (just off Park Ave.), initiated by American Iranian Friendship Committee.
(2) In Washington, Sunday, March 4, there will be a similar protest at 11 a.m. at the AIPAC Conference, Mt. Vernon Place between 7th  St. and 9th St. NW, in front of the Convention Center, Initiated by Occupy AIPAC.

— See the Feb. 20 video interview with ANSWER's Brian Becker about the U.S.-Iran crisis and the  role of Israel at

By the Activist Newsletter

The student hunger strike at the University of Virginia (UVA), with 17 people still participating, entered its 12th day Feb. 29. They are seeking wage increases for low-wage University workers from $7.25 an hour to $13.

According to Joseph Williams, a hunger striker and football player at UVA:

"Our University seeks to distinguish itself as a caring community and prides itself on traditions of honor and student self-governance. However, in our 'caring community,' hundreds of contract employees may make as little as $7.25 an hour while six out of the top 10 highest paid state employees in Virginia hold administrative positions at the University.

"Many employees, mostly women and African Americans, do not receive enough pay for their basic necessities to exist in Charlottesville [UVA's home city], where the cost of living is nearly 10% higher than the national average."

A minimum hiring rate of $10.65 an hour exists at UVA, but contract workers — an increasing portion of the workforce — can be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  The University, which enjoys a healthy and growing endowment, suggests its hands are tied because campus management has no influence over what contracting companies pay their workers. Critics think this is deceptive because school administrators are free to select a company that pays its workers a living wage, or even offer additional benefits directly to the workers. 

Six members of the Living Wage Campaign, composed of students and community supporters, met with University administrators for a second time Feb. 29 to discuss the question of a living wage for all employees at UVA. After the meeting they reported:

"Although we met for an hour and a half, we made no progress toward implementing any meaningful changes. Instead, the University made clear that they still refused to negotiate with the Campaign, or to seriously consider changing their policies toward low-wage employees. We are not even close to a living wage.

"People’s lives are at stake. The university talks about budget priorities, we talk about children growing up not knowing their parents because they work three jobs to get by. The university talks about education benefits, we talk about people forced to make a choice between paying the rent and buying diabetes medication.

"We would hope that even an opponent of the campaign would concede that equal work deserves equal pay and that the university shouldn’t create a lower class of invisible contract employees, but this has not been the case. Instead, what we have in response to more than a decade of activism, research, and work, and now a hunger strike, is a statement that they may take action to gather information on labor issues.

"This is not enough! The Living Wage Campaign rejects the response of the administration as insufficient and will continue the hunger strike. We emerge with renewed energy, purpose, and support. We will not let this issue rest until UVA does right by its employees."

— For website and petition,

By the Activist Newsletter

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's plan to reduce mail service to five days a week and shut 3,830 post offices is meeting opposition in Congress, from sectors of the public, and the several major postal unions. Some closings of mail processing plants could begin in late May, while layoffs at post offices are set to begin in the fall.

On Feb. 13, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), joined by 110 other House members, called on Donahoe to institute a moratorium on U.S. Postal Service closure plans. According to the Postal News, "In a letter signed by the bipartisan group, Hinchey cited a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) report that points to deep flaws with the data used by the USPS to determine which postal facilities should be considered for closure."

The Mid-Hudson Valley Congressman declared: "The data the USPS used to select which post offices it would consider for closure was incomplete, inaccurate and inappropriately targeted rural post offices. I’m calling on the Postmaster General to halt all discontinuance studies. Unless they start operating with better information, they could do more harm than good."

In addition to the post offices, USPS announced Feb. 23 it seeks to close or consolidate more than 223 mail processing plants in the next 18 months, at a cost of 35,000 jobs. "This plan makes no sense at all and should be abandoned," argued Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is from a state where a mail processing plant is slated to close. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Donahoe "should focus on common sense solutions that improve its fiscal solvency" instead of putting eight Ohio facilities out of business.

How did this all come about? The original Post Office agency was launched by Ben Franklin and the rebellious Second Continental Congress in 1775, before the Declaration of Independence, and Franklin was the first postmaster general. Postal delivery became a cabinet-level department after national independence when George Washington was president, and New Yorker Samuel Osgood was the first postmaster to serve under the Constitution in 1789.

The USPS was reorganized in 1970 to become a semi-independent business though it remained a government entity. It no longer receives funding from Washington but raises its own monies — one of only two governments in the world that does not fund its post office system (the other is dysfunctional Somalia with practically no government services whatever). Postal rates are set by the Postal Rate Commission according to the recommendations of the 11-member Postal Board of Governors, which also selects the postmaster general. Nine of the board's members are chosen by the President and, with Senate approval, serve for nine years each (though if selected after 2006 new members serve for seven years).

President Obama and Congress have circumscribed authority, but are far from powerless. For instance, the Board of Governors may implement certain changes without government approval, but on important matters such as moving to five-day delivery or postage rates both the White House and Congress have a big say. On the delivery question, however, Obama sides with Postmaster Donahoe, not the over half million postal workers and their many unions.

Postal unions staged concerted  nationwide demonstrations a few months ago against the planned downsizing and privatizing of the USPS. Some unions have "been working to win support for amendments to the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789), which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate soon," says the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). On Feb. 14, 27 Senators signed a letter asking bill sponsors "to maintain current service standards, protect rural post offices, maintain six-day delivery, and establish a blue-ribbon panel to examine how the Postal Service can earn additional revenue by offering new services."

The APWU and the National Postal Mail Handlers have collected over 300,000 signatures so far on a petition to Congress. Several other postal unions are also actively fighting the closures, including support for bills in the House.

Among the labor organizations leading the campaign for the postal workers are the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC, representing city letter carriers), the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Obama has largely stayed in the background on some but not all Donahoe's plans. The White House budget for FY 2013, released Feb. 13, includes authority for the USPS to end Saturday delivery next year. Of this Donahoe said: "The President continued to recognize the urgent need for postal reform."

The unions didn't see it that way. Responding to the budget proposal, NALC President Fredric V. Rolando declared: "Eliminating Saturday delivery is a counter-productive proposal that would degrade services to the public and to businesses, threaten the viability of the Postal Service itself, and begin to dismantle the universal network that has served the country well for 200 years....

"Among those who would be most affected are residents of rural communities, the elderly, those who need medicines or other goods on weekends, not to mention small businesses, which are open weekends and need to send and receive financial documents.... Eliminating Saturday delivery would pose additional costs on all who are compelled to contract with expensive carriers. Taxpayers wouldn’t save a penny, because they don’t fund the Postal Service; USPS earns its own money by selling stamps and services."

The big postal unions point out that the 2006 postal "reform" law during the Bush Administration "requires the USPS to pre-fund 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits within just 10 years.... No other federal agency or private enterprise is forced to pre-fund similar benefits like this, especially on such an aggressive schedule. This postal-only mandate costs the USPS $5.5 billion per year. It accounts for 100% of the Postal Service’s $20 billion in losses over the past four or years. It also accounts for 100% of the rise in the Postal Service’s debt in recent years."

Donahoe, who took office 13 months ago after 35 years in the Postal Service, pledges to make the USPS into a "profitable, market-responsive organization." He claims that USPS has accumulated an $8.3 billion budget deficit for FY 2012. He supports ending the pre-funding measure, but also insists on the closings and other cutbacks.

According to the citizen-run website on Feb. 21: "The Postal Service juggernaut keeps rolling on with its downsizing plans, and it seems prepared to crush whatever stands in its way — postal workers, post offices, communities, history.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything that can stop it — not Congress, not the unions, not the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Perhaps it’s time for the people of the United States to take the U.S. Postal Service to court."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 18 that post office closings may increase rural isolation and economic disparity: "Nearly 80% of the 3,830 post offices under consideration are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average."

The great majority of the regions targeted for closing are where "UPS and FedEx charge more for delivery," the Post continued. "Town mayors and chambers of commerce also worry about the broader economic impact of losing a post office. With small populations, remote locations and a lack of reliable Internet, many towns are already a tough sell to new businesses....

"Despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Postal Service declined to provide data on revenue for individual post offices. But it did provide expense data for all post offices. The statistics show that closing all the post offices under consideration would save about $295 million a year, about four-tenths of 1% of the Postal Service’s annual expenses of $70 billion."

Former Clinton Administration Postmaster General William told the press "that’s not even a drop in the bucket. The bucket won’t ripple."

The Postal Service, which employs 575,000 workers at 32,000 facilities, says the growth of the Internet has cut volume way down, which is true in part, but many local people tell the Activist Newsletter that while they may e-mail most letters these days, their mail box seems as full as ever with bills, magazines, cards, packages and the like. "There are too many catalogs at Christmas, but we just recycle them," said one local resident. "Otherwise, we count on our Monday-Saturday mail delivery."

Dean Granholm, a USPS vice president, said in February that the personnel reductions could begin by October. At this stage, the jobs of some 3,000 postmasters, 500 station managers and up to 1,000 postal clerks are on the chopping block.

In addition to closing the post offices, Donahoe wants to (1) cut payrolls through attrition, (2) end the agency's health plan for older employees, moving them to taxpayer-funded Medicare, and (3) eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

The unions claim that the closings are mainly a conservative move to privatize mail and package delivery. Evidently right wing political opposition to "big government" is a factor in the downsizing. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader thinks privatization advocates have exaggerated the money and other problems to create a "manufactured crisis."

One way the USPS plans to compensate for some of the closed offices is to open about 2,500 so-called "village post offices" sometime next year. These are to be small private operations housed in local businesses — gas stations, groceries and the like — that would handle limited services such as stamp sales and flat-rate shipping and few extras. It is to be assumed other private ventures will spring up across the country to supplement the immediate and longer term shrinkage of postal services. For the small government crowd a completely privatized postal service some day would be just dandy.

Ironically, one of the facilities scheduled for elimination and sale to an "appropriate retailer" is Philadelphia's small but historically significant Ben Franklin post office on Market St. in the Independence Mall area attached next door to the U.S. Postal Service Museum. Tourist and news outlets report that it is on the location of Ben Franklin's house and is the only post office that doesn't fly a U.S. flag — because the colonial period facility pre-dates the existence of the national standard.

If the Franklin office closes, it might be fitting for the Postal Museum to dip its own flag in ceremonial regret — not just for the loss of an historic post office located in a pre-revolutionary three-story brick building that once housed the first postmaster general, but perhaps for the uncertain future of the USPS and its many workers as well.



[The Obama Administration wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan long beyond their respective Dec. 31 withdrawal deadlines at the end of 2011 and 2014. President Obama was burned by the Iraqis, who refused at the last minute. Now he's pressuring the Afghan government, according to this Feb. 20 IPS article. We have followed with excerpts from a Washington post article and our own commentary.]

By Gareth Porter and Shah Nouri of Inter-Press Service

Nearly a year after the Barack Obama administration began negotiations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a United States military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, both sides confirmed in mid-February that the talks were still hung up over the Afghan demand that night raids by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) either be ended or put under Afghan control.

Karzai has proposed the latter option, with Afghan forces carrying out most of the raids, but the U.S. military has rejected that possibility, according to sources at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

Karzai's persistence in pressing that demand reflects the widespread popular anger at night raids, which means that Karzai cannot give in to the U.S. insistence on continuing them without handing the Taliban a big advantage in the political-military maneuvering that will continue during peace talks.

The dilemma for both the United States and Karzai is that the United States has been planning to leave SOF units and U.S. airpower — the two intensely unpopular elements of U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in the country — as the only combat forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Feb. 15, Karzai gave no evidence of backing down on his demand regarding night raids and the closely related issue of U.S. troops taking and holding Afghan prisoners. Karzai identified the issues involving "Afghan sovereignty" as "civilian casualties, attacks on Afghan homes, raids on Afghan homes, taking prisoners and keeping prisoners."

Karzai warned there could be no "partnership" agreement with the United States until those issues were resolved.

United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had confirmed that fact in congressional testimony on Feb. 13, admitting that U.S. and Afghan negotiators "still have difficulties" with the issues of night raids and the transfer of a U.S.-run detention facility to the Afghan government. Panetta said he was hopeful the two sides would work out a compromise on those issues in the coming weeks....

          From The Washington Post, Feb. 7

"The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests.... Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency’s largest overseas outposts for years." The Washington Post report continues in part:

As President Obama seeks to end a decade of large-scale conflict, the emerging assignments for the CIA suggest it will play a significant part in the administration’s search for ways to exert U.S. power in more streamlined and surgical ways.

As a result, the CIA station in Kabul — which at one point had responsibility for as many as 1,000 agency employees in Afghanistan — is expected to expand its collaboration with Special Operations forces when the drawdown of conventional troops begins....

U.S. officials said the size of the agency’s presence in Afghanistan over the next several years has not been determined, and the CIA’s assignment is likely to be adjusted as the administration’s troop withdrawal plans evolve.

In some scenarios, teams of CIA and Special Operations troops could divide territory and lists of Taliban targets with Afghan forces, although officials said there will probably be extensive collaboration and overlap.

CIA paramilitary operatives were the first U.S. personnel to enter Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, linking up with Northern Alliance [United Islamic Front] fighters weeks before U.S. military commandos arrived. More than a decade later, the CIA still has extensive paramilitary assets there....

The agency controls counterterrorism pursuit teams made up of dozens of Afghan fighters funded and trained by the CIA. The CIA has largely bankrolled and built the Afghan intelligence service. And the agency maintains a constellation of bases along the border with Pakistan....

As conventional forces depart, officials said, the agency will probably concentrate more of its remaining employees at compounds in Kabul and at the Bagram air base north of the capital.

As a result, more territory may be ceded to the Taliban. "We can lose the countryside, but I don’t think we’re going to lose Kabul and Bagram," said the former senior CIA officer, who added that the agency could end up adding paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan as the size of the U.S. military deployment shrinks."

           Following are comments from the Activist Newsletter:

Among the "U.S. interests" the SOF-CIA will "protect" are: (1) To threaten Iran, which borders Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly now that the U.S. no longer totally controls the Baghdad government; (2) to continue drone attacks on Pakistan and elsewhere; (3) to serve as a U.S. military foothold in geopolitically strategic Central Asia, adjacent to China and to several resource-rich former USSR republics; and (4) to oversee any possible formal U.S.-Taliban pact to end the war.

Historically, the CIA was immersed clandestinely in Afghanistan during the 1978-1995 civil war to orchestrate, finance and train the mujahedeen forces against the pro-Soviet People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government in Kabul until it was crushed in 1992, along with its remaining progressive reforms. The reforms had included extensive freedoms for women.

The CIA lingered throughout the subsequent three years of vicious struggle between various reactionary warlords for control of the country. The Taliban won, though the U.S. backed the Northern Alliance/United Islamic Front. A token CIA force secretly remained in the country. Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center the agents distributed bags of money to the warlords of the Islamic Front's many factions to keep them on the anti-Taliban side when the U.S. invasion ensued weeks later on Oct. 7.

It is now 10 years and five months since the invasion of Afghanistan, and 34 years since the CIA became deeply operative in the country. With the extremely expensive addition of the unjust war against Iraq, these stalemated military adventures have cost the U.S. many trillions of dollars and are a main cause of the economic travail experienced today by the American middle class, working class and poor. The elite classes profited from the wars.

The Obama Administration apparently plans to continue the Afghan folly — even if only ruling wretched, war weary Kabul and Bagram Air Base — until the Taliban agrees to a much smaller but permanent U.S. military presence in return for granting the right wing ultra-religious organization a substantial amount of the political power it lost in 2001.

Most U.S. troops then, as Obama said in December when pulling out of Iraq, will leave "with heads held high," though some, he hopes, will continue to hold the fort.

—For the full IPS article:
—For the full WP


[Following are excerpts from a Feb. 28 article in Asia Times by its correspondent M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. The article discusses some of the implications for the U.S. and NATO of the turmoil and killings in Afghanistan instigated by American military authorities Feb. 20 when they confiscated and burned copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran.]

The killing in Kabul Feb. 25 of two high-ranking American military officials — a colonel and a major —  serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will prompt a paradigm shift in regional security. Afghanistan surges as still America's number one "hot spot," over-shadowing Syria and Iran.

If President Barack Obama thought it was time for the United States military to "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific, it has been delusionary thinking. The Taliban retains a big say in the upcoming campaign for Obama's reelection bid [the Republicans have already criticized Obama's sensible apology for the incident], and the strategy of peace talks with the Taliban will need a closer look.

The prospects of the United States establishing military bases in Afghanistan look very doubtful in the backdrop of the tsunami of anti-Americanism sweeping through Afghanistan. And, in immediate terms, what happens to the drawdown of the U.S. troops?

The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, had a quick answer in an interview with the CNN Feb. 26: "Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business."

Diplomats are paid to sound optimistic. But then, how sure are we that things are indeed going to "calm down" —  and, more importantly, how long will the calmness of the cemetery last till the next funeral is held?

Crocker added, "This is not the time to decide that we are done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation that al-Qaeda is not coming back. If we decide we're tired of it, al-Qaeda and the Taliban certainly aren't." Hmm. The statement appeared to be aimed at the American public.

Obama was wrong to have left Afghanistan to the State Department and the late Richard Holbrooke's cronies to handle. Clearly, his "apology" for the burning of Korans by the U.S. troops failed to impress the Afghans. More than 30 people have been killed in the violence, including half a dozen American soldiers. At least another six American military trainers have been injured.

The U.S. consulate in the western city of Herat, which is dominated by the Tajiks, came under attack. U.S., French and Norwegian bases were attacked, including in a relatively calm region like Samangan province in the north. Protesters stormed the United Nations office in the northern city of Kunduz, which has a mixed population of Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks. No region of Afghanistan can be considered safe; not even Tajik-dominated Taloqan city in the approaches to the Badakhshan mountains in the east....

Significantly, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai only broke his silence Feb. 26 and called for calm. He waited wisely for the protests to run their course. Finally, Karzai told a press conference that the protests showed Afghan people were ready to die for their religion. He called for the American soldiers who burned the Koran to be punished and promised to take it up with Obama....

There is going to be pervasive doubt in the American mind about Afghan soldiers. An armed Afghan in a military base becomes a potential suicide killer. A senior Afghan general told the BBC, "The virus of infiltration has spread like a cancer and it needs an operation. Curing it has not helped." The entire project of "capacity-building" of Afghan security is in disrepute.

A normal working relationship between the U.S. and Afghan forces is not going to be easy in this climate. This means the Pentagon's "surge," the follow-up strategy of the troop drawdown and handing over of security responsibility to the Afghan forces, and the ending of the NATO combat mission by 2014 all seem to lie in tatters.

Washington and London almost instantly decided to pull out their mentors and advisers attached to Afghan government ministries and establishments. But the impasse means paralysis in effective coordination work in ongoing security operations, technical support and intelligence sharing, which will only deepen the uncertainties.

NATO allies are also watching. The Germans summarily shut down their base in Taloqan in northeastern Afghanistan. Each NATO member country will be prompted to explore how to minimize the risk of its young men and women perishing in a senseless war. French President Nicolas Sarkozy already threatened once that he is scooting and had to be persuaded to change his mind. A tricky time lies ahead for Obama as NATO gears up for its 60th anniversary summit in Chicago in May....


[There are days when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd fills her pen with acid, not ink, as she did today (Feb. 29) writing about Romney, Rick Santorum and the Republican campaign for the White House. Here it is.]

By Maureen Dowd

Rick should scat. Mitt Romney needs to be left alone to limp across the finish line, so he can devote his full time and attention to losing to President Obama.

With Sanctorum and Robo-Romney in a race to the bottom, the once ruthless Republican Party seems to have pretty much decided to cave on 2012 and start planning for a post-Obama world.

Not even because Obama is so strong; simply because their field is so ridiculously weak and wacky.

John McCain has Aeschylated it to "a Greek tragedy." And he should know from Greek tragedy.

"It’s the negative campaigning and the increasingly personal attacks," he told The Boston Herald, adding, "the likes of which we have never seen." When a man who was accused of having an illegitimate black child in the 2000 South Carolina primary thinks this is the worst ever, the G.O.P. is really in trouble.

The Arizona senator, who’s supporting Romney, grimly noted: "I know he’s going to be the nominee, but I also worry about how much damage has been done."

As they battled for Michigan, Arizona and beyond, Romney called Rick Santorum an "economic lightweight," and Santorum called Romney "a lightweight on conservative accomplishments," "uniquely unqualified" and "a bully." [On Feb. 28 Romney got 41.1% to Santorum's 37.9% in Michigan and it was 47.3% to 26.6% in Arizona.]

In the old days, the Republican ego had control of the party’s id. The id, sometimes described as a galloping horse or crying baby, "the dark, inaccessible part of our personality ... chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations," as Freud called it, was whipped up obliquely by candidates. Nixon had his Southern strategy of using race as a wedge, Bush Senior and Lee Atwater used the Willie Horton attack, and W. and Karl Rove conjured the gay marriage bogyman.

Once elected, those presidents curbed the id with the ego, common sense and reason. But now the G.O.P.’s id is unbridled. The horse has thrown the rider; the dark forces are bubbling. Moderates, women, gays, Hispanics and blacks — even the president — are being hunted in this most dangerous game.

Asked in Michigan why he couldn’t excite the base, Romney said he is not willing to make "incendiary comments" or "light my hair on fire."

In the latest sign that moderate Republicans feel passé, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine shockingly announced her retirement, decrying "my way or the highway" ideologies" and a vanishing political center.

The apogee of apathy for Romney was on Friday [Feb/ 24], when the man who says he’s an expert manager spoke to a mostly empty football stadium in Detroit. Stephen Colbert defended Romney, saying he connected with the sea of empty chairs because they, too, were "plastic and uncomfortable."

Some Republicans at the annual winter governors’ meeting here murmured that it was over for Mittens even before he cited his wife’s two Caddies and his NASCAR team-owner pals, and awkwardly mocked the plastic ponchos of Daytona racing fans: "I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks."

They said Mitt was damaged as a contender against Obama when he was forced to admit that he had a 15-percent tax rate (given, as The Huffington Post points out, that Romney averaged $6,400 an hour at Bain Capital while creating lots of jobs with paltry wages).

Romney defended himself in an interview to Fox News on Feb. 28, sitting in front of a poster of his dad with the slogan: "Romney Great in ’68." Romney père lost his dream of becoming president when he claimed he was brainwashed on Vietnam.

Now Santorum should forfeit his chance after making a far dumber remark: Kids should beware of college because they’ll get brainwashed.

Pandering to Tea Partiers, Santorum, who has a B.A., M.B.A. and J.D., and who supported higher education in his 2006 senatorial campaign, absurdly turned the American dream inside-out and into sauerkraut.

He called the president "a snob" for encouraging people to get more educated and asserted that Obama only wants Americans to go to college so they can be remade in his image, while being indoctrinated by liberal college professors.

Does he think that defining ambition down and asking kids to give up hope is a good mantra? Even Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who was trying to mandate that women seeking abortions be shamed with vaginal ultrasounds that Democrats dubbed "legal rape," thought Santorum went too far.

As Mitt’s remarks get curiouser, Rick’s get creepier.

In an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Santorum offended the Catholics he’s courting by saying that the J.F.K. speech ratifying the separation of church and state made him want "to throw up" because Kennedy had thrown "his faith under the bus."

"I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute," Sanctorum said.

If he is willing to cross that line, the only two possibilities are that he doesn’t understand the nature of the United States or that he wants to do damage to the United States. Neither is acceptable.

By Saki Knafo, Huffington Post

In the last decade, the number of children living in areas of concentrated poverty grew by over 1.6 million, according to a new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 2000, 6.3 million children lived in high poverty areas in the United States, according to the report. By 2010, the number had climbed to 8 million, at a growth rate of about 25%. The increase erases gains made in the 1990s, when the number of children living in high-poverty areas declined.

The study defined areas of concentrated poverty as census tracts where 30% of residents or more live below the government's poverty threshold, defined as an income of $22,000 or less for a family of four. The study also notes that three-quarters of children living in these neighborhoods have at least one employed parent.

[From the Activist Newsletter: In New York State, where 20.2% of children and youth under 18 live in poverty, 15% reside in areas of concentrated poverty. In New York City 27% live in such areas. All told, 22% of American children — 15.6 million — survive in poverty. The National Center on Family Homelessness reported recently one in 45 children in the U.S — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families in 2010.]

"We chose to look at this data because we know that regardless of the family's income, children who grow up in high-poverty communities are more likely to have their long-term outcomes be hampered by the community that they live in," said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and data. "They have difficulty finding a good school, they're more likely to struggle with getting access to good healthcare providers, they're more likely to be exposed to high levels of stress, and they're more likely to have social and behavioral problems because of that."

The study shows that certain children are more likely to live in areas of high poverty than others. They include children in cities or rural areas, as opposed to the suburbs, and children of color. African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely than white children to live in high poverty areas.

The city with the highest rates of children living in areas of concentrated poverty is Detroit at 67 percent, followed by Cleveland and Miami. Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona rank highest among states in this category.

By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

In the first comprehensive satellite study of its kind, a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team used NASA data to calculate how much Earth’s melting land ice is adding to global sea level rise.

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth’s land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth’s glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches to global sea level. That’s enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet deep.

"Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change," said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study.

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (roughly 148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year. Results of the study were published online Feb. 8 in the journal Nature.

Traditional estimates of Earth’s ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all the world’s unmonitored glaciers were doing. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for longer than a decade.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was that the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.

— A map of the major ice loss is at

By Pete Spotts, Christian Science Monitor

Fracking may lead to larger releases of methane into the air than previously estimated, according to a new study.

Scientists are now trying to find out if the underestimation is unique to the gas field they examined or whether rogue emissions from such fields are also being underestimated in other areas where there is hydraulic fracturing — or "fracking" — to collect natural gas from shale and other rock formations.

The study, conducted by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo., suggests that the gas field in Colorado's Weld County leaks roughly 4% of its gross annual production into the air. Previous estimates put the leakage at 1.6%.

The results come with large uncertainties, notes the team, which included researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The losses could be as low as 2.3% or as high as 7.7%.

Yet even the low end of that range is higher than previous estimates, notes Gregory Frost, an atmospheric chemist at the ESRL and a member of the team reporting the results in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Fields that rely on fracking tend to leak more methane than fields with conventional wells, some researchers say. Getting an accurate handle on methane emissions is important as a tool in efforts to fight human-triggered global warming....

          From the Activist Newsletter:

The White House justifies the increased production of natural gas from fracking because it emits a lower percentage of carbon dioxide that other fossil fuels when used. Burning gas for electricity emits 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and about 45% less than coal.

Recent studies, however, have shown that fracking releases sufficient stores of methane into the atmosphere to compensate for any reduction in carbon from natural gas. Methane disappears far quicker than carbon dioxide, but it creates a greenhouse heat trap 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. If estimated leakage leaps from 1.6% to between 2.3% and 7.7%, as the new ESRL studies suggest, the danger factor will be much greater.

By William A. Collins

Given that we now have an African-American president, many Americans feel comfortable sweeping the issue of racial discrimination under the rug. How bad can bias be if we elected Barack Obama?

Well, pretty bad. The numbers are dismal. While white unemployment is stuck at around 7.5%,  black Americans are suffering 16%. In terms of household net worth, it's worse. The median for white families has slumped to $113,000, but black households have been reduced to an unsustainable $5,700, and Latinos to $6,300. Like many of our society's economic gaps, this one is steadily widening, not least because people of color are often the first workers to be laid off. 

And that's not all. Many of those unindicted mortgage bankers purposely targeted African Americans with their twisted schemes. Now black homeowners are more than three times as likely to be evicted than their white counterparts.

Budget cuts have produced similar sinister results. With state and local deficits spreading panic across the land, government employees are being laid off in droves. This is a double whammy for black Americans, for whom the public sector is the single biggest source of employment. As front-line municipal service providers to poorer citizens, their jobs are often the first to go. And needless to say, the low-income communities they serve are heavily minority too, so government downsizing leaves both provider and recipient alike to stew in the cauldron of poverty.

Latinos sail on that same sea, often abused by the companies local governments contract to perform municipal services.

Nor is the Great Recession the only tsunami currently drowning the African-American community. The Great Disenfranchisement is hitting them hard too. Belligerent new Republican majorities in many legislatures are aggressively changing voting rules in ways that are likely to prevent many people of color from voting.

Laws supposedly aimed at curing nonexistent voter fraud now require state-issued ID cards, which aren't easily acquired. These statutes, plainly aimed at black Americans, seniors, and students, have lately drawn the unhappy attention of the Justice Department. Some will surely be overturned under the Voting Rights Act, but nonetheless millions of Democratic-leaning citizens are likely to be denied the vote in 2012.

Meanwhile, racial profiling remains rampant in law enforcement, especially concerning drugs, for which mindlessly draconian penalties still endure. Presumably the cops believe that this profiling is what politicians really want. Unfortunately they're probably right. Thus they keep it up relentlessly in the face of contrary laws and regulations.

So now it turns out that a couple of measurable and understandable social phenomena have blossomed amid this flood of discrimination. The largest is the continued movement of blacks to the South, a trend that began in the late 1990s. Living is cheaper there, family roots can be embraced, and it's warmer. Jim Crow may not be dead, but since he now lives in the North as well, what's to lose?

Similarly, with jobs disappearing amid a hostile economic landscape, black women are joining the military in percentages far exceeding their numbers in the general population. It's not a bad measure of how rotten their civilian life has become.

—  The author is a former Connecticut state representative, and a past mayor of Norwalk. He writes for


March is Women’s History Month, a good occasion to reacquaint oneself with the campaign for women’s equality in the United States — a struggle with many victories, but far from over.

Of the various books on the subject, Eleanor Flexner’s "Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States" (Harvard University Press) — which essentially deals with the years 1820-1920 and the battles leading up to winning the right to vote — is among the best general histories, in our opinion. It was written in 1959 and last revised and enlarged in 1996.

Following is an eclectic collection of quotes about the struggle from various sources.

Women textile workers on strike in Lowell, Mass., in 1836 — at a time when women workers earned perhaps one-quarter of men’s wages — delivered this declaration:  "As our fathers resisted unto blood the lordly avarice of the British ministry, so we, their daughters, never will wear the yoke which has been prepared for us."

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), the former slave born in Ulster County, N.Y., who became a leading abolitionist and feminist  (some historians say she may not have spoken these exact words, which were attributed to her speech at the 1851 women’s rights convention in Ohio, but they are consistent with her known general views and style): "The man over there [a minister who had just spoken] says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place — and ain’t I a woman? Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me — and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have born 13 children, and seen most of ‘em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me — and ain’t I a woman?"

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), one of the best known U.S. feminist leaders and editor of the periodical, The Revolution, which had this motto: "Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), another great leader and Anthony’s closest associate: "The prolonged slavery of women is the darkest page in human history." She also said, "Womanhood is the great fact in her life; wifehood and motherhood are but incidental relations."

Mother (Mary Harris) Jones (1830-1930), the veteran labor leader who lived to be 100 and remained a militant fighter until the day she died: "No matter what your fight, don’t be ladylike!  God Almighty made women, and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies."

Martha Carey Thomas (1857-1935), the suffragist and president of Bryn Mawr College: "Women are one-half of the world, but until a century ago... it was a man’s world.  The laws were men’s laws, the government a man’s government, the country a man’s country. Now women have won the right to higher education and economic independence. The right to become citizens of the state [by obtaining voting rights] is the next and inevitable consequence of education and work outside the home.  We have gone so far;  we must go farther. We cannot go back."

Dorothy Ballan (1918-92), the U.S. communist organizer and writer, from her 1971 pamphlet, Feminism and Marxism: "It is really impossible to understand the origin or development of the present status of women without subjecting the question to a materialist view of history, that is, from a class point of view.  If women in the leadership of this movement see the question in historical perspective, it would help to avoid another decline such as happened to the suffragist movement."

Gloria Steinem (1934-    ), the founder of Ms. magazine and feminist organizer: "Feminism is not antisexuality; on the contrary. It says that sexuality shouldn’t be confused with violence and dominance and that it should be a matter of free choice.  It shouldn’t be forced on you by economics, including dependence on a husband, or by pressure."

Germaine Greer (1939-    ), the feminist author: "I didn’t fight to get women out from behind the vacuum cleaner to get them onto the board of Hoover."

Robin Morgan (1941-    ), the feminist editor and writer: "Women are not inherently passive or peaceful.  We’re not inherently anything but human."

Erica Jong, (1942-    ), the author: "Women really must have equal pay for equal work, equality in work at home, and reproductive choices. Men must press for these things also. They must cease to see them as ‘women’s issues’ and learn that they are everyone’s issues — essential to survival on planet Earth."

•Angela Davis (1944  -    ), the University of California professor and well-known African-American political activist: "When the feminist historians of the 21st century attempt to recapitulate [the modern women’s struggle] will they ignore the momentous contributions of Afro-American women, who have been leaders and activists in movements often confined to women of color, but whose accomplishments have invariably advanced the cause of white women as well? Will the exclusionary policies of the mainstream women’s movement — from its inceptions to the present — which have often compelled Afro-American women to conduct their struggle for equality outside the ranks of that movement, continue to result in the systematic omission of our names from the roster of prominent leaders and activists of the women’s movement?"

Susan Faludi (1959-   ), the journalist and author: "Feminism’s agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to ‘choose’ between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women  be free to define themselves — instead of having their identify defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Feb 13, 2012, Issue #175





Adam Smith (1723-1790), the Scottish economist revered — though occasionally in the breach — by today’s defenders of the free-market capitalist economy, is best known for his 1776 opus, “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Tucked away in “Wealth of Nations,” which was written at the dawn of the industrial era before the word "capitalism" was invented, is the following insight: "Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is, in reality, instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have property against those who have none at all."


By the Activist Newsletter

The U.S. has yet to respond to a report from Iran that the American drone the Teheran government captured in December was being returned to Washington. The entire gesture has been ignored by the Obama Administration, including the fact that Iranians dramatically altered the appearance of the multi-million dollar pilotless surveillance drone.

Iranian TV broadcast footage of the drone draped in anti-American banners after it was captured near the Afghan border. Iran's  Foreign Ministry complained to the UN Security Council and demanded an apology from the U.S. for illegally intruding on Iranian air space on a spying mission.

According to Reuters, the drone was being returned with a small makeover: "Mocking requests to return the drone, a local toy company is sending back a miniature model of the RQ-170 Sentinel to President Barack Obama." It was sent to him via the Swiss embassy on Feb. 1.

The news agency quoted a toy company spokesman as saying: "We wanted for Mr. Obama himself to have these toys and know that Iranians don't leave anyone's requests unanswered.... We decided to show that we can deal with this issue in a very friendly and peaceful manner and put it in the playful hands of the children of Iran to pursue a 'soft war' with Mr. Obama and the U.S. This was the aim of producing this aircraft." Toy models were supposed to go on sale in Iran in early February, priced at 70,000 rials ($4) each.

Iran's Fars News Agency reported that the aerospace unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps built a full scale model of the downed RQ-170 and that it went on display at rallies Feb. 11, marking the 33rd  anniversary of the country's Islamic Revolution.


By Donna Goodman, of  the Activist Newsletter

President Obama's State of the Union speech Jan. 25 contained distressing news for opponents of global warming who recognize the need to begin substantially reducing reliance upon carbon based fossil fuels.

"Over the last three years," Obama said, "we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration. And tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources." The next day, CNN reported, Washington announced "plans to sell off oil and gas leases on 38 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico seafloor in a new domestic energy push."

The extraction of natural gas in the enormous volume sought by the Obama Administration depends primarily on a vast nationwide increase in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract this energy resource from shale rock. Fracking is the process of pumping chemicals at high pressure into the ground to crack the rock and release the gas within.

Obama announced that with the relatively recent development of fracking technology the country now "has a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years" — and he made it clear every drop of that resource should be exploited.

The growing popular movement against fracking argues that it is a serious danger to water supplies, among other unwelcome attributes. Obama sought to refute this concern in his speech: "I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use."

None of the millions of New York State acres slated for fracking is on "public lands," not that merely disclosing the chemicals would do any good. Activist opposition has delayed fracking so far, but key politicians such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and  powerful business interests are applying their own high pressure to legalize the process soon.

As noted in a recent Activist Newsletter, the Obama Administration justifies the increased production of global warming natural gas because it emits a lower percentage of carbon dioxide when used, but that's deceptive. Burning gas for electricity emits 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and about 45% less than coal. But recent studies have shown that the process of fracking releases sufficient stores of methane into the atmosphere to compensate for any reduction in carbon from natural gas. Methane creates a greenhouse heat trap about 20 times greater than carbon dioxide.

President Obama spoke of developing renewable, non-fossil energy resources, declaring "I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany." But the U.S. is far behind and will remain so given its fixation of oil and gas. In a recent article in Foreign Affairs Online, S. Julio Friedmann, head of the Carbon Management Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote: "China has become a global hub for energy innovation....The scale of its [clean energy] effort simply dwarfs every other on earth.... China's clean energy investment and deployment will dominate climate and trade trajectories for decades."

According to the authoritative Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Jan. 10:  "The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth's atmosphere.... Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy — and emissions — for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect.  Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late."

Obama warned about global warming and articulated support for solar and wind power when he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, but his principal environmental commitment in reality is obviously to oil, gas and — harmful in a different way  — nuclear power.

The only time during his annual address that he mentioned the words "climate change" was in justifying his quest to develop ever more greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels by blaming the obstructive Republicans: "The differences in this chamber [Congress] may be too deep right now to  pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change."

The Obama Administration has made no serious attempt to galvanize the American people behind a campaign to halt global warming. Nor has it played a constructive role in the yearly UN conferences of 191 nations and the European Union to halt climate change.

Assessing the failure of the last UN conference two months ago in Durban, South Africa, Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, declared: “Developed countries, led by the United States, accelerated the demolition of the world’s international framework for fair and urgent climate action. And developing countries have been bullied and forced into accepting an agreement that could be a suicide pill for the world.”

President Obama received praise from much of the environmental community after he announced Jan. 18 that that he was rejecting a proposal by TransCanada Corp. to construct the $7 billion, 1,700 mile Keystone XL pipeline from Canada's Tar Sands in Alberta to U.S. oil refineries in Texas. But that's only a part of the story. The odds are that the pipeline will indeed be constructed.

By late last year the Obama Administration was besieged with protests from the environmental movement to reject the pipeline because it signified the government's increased intention to rely on fossil fuels. In addition, residents of several Midwestern states objected because the pipeline was designed to pass over the huge Ogallala Aquifer, upon which the region depends.

Obama's solution was to delay a decision until after the election, and to request that TransCanada reconfigure the pipeline route.

Sensing an opportunity to embarrass the administration, pro-fossil fuel Republican leaders in Congress, who deny human activity affects the climate, demanded Obama make his decision public by Feb. 21. Obama then decided to reject the proposal on the grounds that Washington needed more time to study the matter, earning applause from the environmental movement. TransCanada is already developing an alternative route in the full expectation that it will be accepted several months after the election.

Opposition to Tar Sands isn't mainly because it's a dirty oil that generates 6% more carbon emissions than petroleum from other regions. The expensive Tar Sands project is part of an expanding parcel of greenhouse fuels that Washington champions and subsidizes while paying token attention to alternative renewable energy resources, and makes no attempt whatever to educate the public about the dangers of global warming.

By greatly increasing oil and gas drilling and calling for construction of new nuclear power facilities, the Obama Administration has just upped the ante in a big way. It seems logical that those who perceive the dangers of climate change and reliance on fracking and fossil fuels will respond by building even stronger the local and national movements for ecological sanity.

By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter

New anti-union legislation was passed by Congress earlier this month despite a Democratic majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House.

It's one more indication that America's unions are over a barrel. The leadership of the Democratic Party — which is dependent on union support and money, especially this presidential election year — knows of labor's plight, says it sympathizes, and goes off whistling an idle tune.

President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate leadership nod with compassion but do virtually nothing when the unions seek support or the removal decades of anti-union legislation.

This has been going on for a long time. It is the main reason why the rich United States has the weakest protections for working people of all the wealthy democracies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and of many developing countries as well.

It is bad enough when the party known as "labor's friend" ignores past injustices, or even refuses to act on a labor priority (such as the Employee Free Choice Act). It's another matter when Democratic votes make it possible to perpetrate new anti-labor injuries, as took place Feb. 6 when the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill over union objections.

The worst part of the new legislation weakened bargaining rights for workers in the aviation and rail industries by increasing from 35% to 50% the number of worker signatures required to allow an election for union recognition. It was strongly backed by the airline industry.

Senate Democrats  called the final version of the bill the best "compromise" possible with the reactionary House measure. "That’s a step back, not a compromise,” commented International Association of Machinists president Tom Buffenbarger, a sentiment shared by many unions.

The Senate vote was 70-20. Only 15 Democrats voted against the measure, as did five republicans. Three of the Democrats voting "no" were from the Northeast: Blumenthal (CT), Gillibrand (NY), and Leahy (VT).

The bill allocates $63.3 billion to the agency through September 2015, but it wasn't even necessary to pass the present measure at all. FAA reauthorization has been extended for the last four years by temporary funding, and this could have been continued until the labor restrictions were excised.

The "do-nothing" Tea Party-infused House passed the bill Feb. 3, 248-169. A respectable 157 Democrats voted against the anti-labor law, joined by 12 Republicans. Some two dozen Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats voted in favor.

[NOTE: Attached to the FAA bill is a rider that will permit flying surveillance drones to spy on Americans throughout the country. An article is directly below.]

After the Senate vote, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA declared: "We will not forget, and we will continue to build a movement of the 99% to stand up and fight back." The union praised the Democrats who stood up for collective bargaining, saying they "should be lauded as heroes." But they said nothing about the majority of Senate Democrats who made the legislation possible.

The labor movement was either quiet or moderately critical of the bill after the vote, even though the expectation was that President Obama would sign the measure into law.

The reason? This is an election year, and a union movement that has tethered itself to the Democratic Party since the mid-1930s won't be directly critical because it doesn't know where else to go. So it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a party that does all the taking and hardly any giving.

Labor sees it the way most liberals, progressives, Latinos, African Americans and average Democratic voters see it: The Republicans are much worse in terms of the interests of all working families. There are only two plausible parties, both entirely devoted to the ruling elite, but one is the relatively lesser "evil" to the other. That's how the American political system is rigged by the 1%.

What this means is that the Democrats need be only half-heartedly supportive of the union movement at best, in between periods of indifference, to enjoy labor's abundant campaign contributions and other forms of electoral support. Here's an example:

The draconian anti-labor Taft-Hartley law, passed by Congress 65 years ago, gravely weakened union rights by eviscerating aspects of the New Deal's National Labor Relations Act. There were several occasions over the decades when the Democrats enjoyed control of the White House, Senate and House (such as in the first two years of the Obama government, 2009-10), but the law remains on the books. The unions no longer bring up the issue, knowing that a substantial number of Democratic politicians would rather handle snakes than take on Taft-Hartley.

Given the history of the U.S. labor movement, it's remarkable that it finds itself in this situation, and doesn't at least demand adequate compensation for its generous, unstinting support.

American unions heroically led intensive struggles against oppressive corporate and government policies for many decades starting in the 1880s. They managed to obtain important rights for the workers, from the eight-hour day and paid vacations, to healthcare, pensions, and much more.

Often socialists and communists were in the front ranks of the union struggles and were the most reliable fighters, even as the top leadership of the labor movement gravitated to the right. Left participation was virtually crushed in the late 1940s when the internal purges began, and in the 1950s when the government-backed red hunts erupted throughout the country.

All the left militants were kicked out, except in a few progressive independent unions, and the commanding leadership of the union movement consisted of Cold Warriors and supporters of the Vietnam War who performed services abroad on behalf of Washington's anti-communist crusade. The leaders discouraged any talk of class struggle and even seemed to ban the use of the term "working class." Even today it's usually "working families" at best, and that all-isnclusive egalitarian community known as the "middle class," which seems to include everyone earning between $25 thousand and $250 thousand a year. (Brother can you spare a hundred grand?)

For many decades the labor movement was controlled at the very top by leaders who seemed to work more closely with big business and the government than with the rank and file. The labor movement finally began to break with the flagrant "business unionism" symbolized by the successive leaderships of Samuel Gompers, George Meany and Lane Kirkland when the AFL-CIO elected decent John Sweeney as president of the largest labor federation in 1995. He brought about a few reforms. Sweeney was succeeded by current president John Trumka — a Democratic loyalist, of course, but who from time to time seems interested in a certain degree of "union independence."

The AFL-CIO, Change to Win and independent unions worked hard for Obama in 2008, and were ecstatic when he was elected. But by 2011 — following repeated failures to stick up for working people and the unions — Trumka began mentioning "independence" more frequently, even hinting that future support might be based on the Democratic Party's actual performance, not its mere lesser "evil" existence. This year it probably only means withholding funds from a few of the worst Blue Dogs seeking reelection, and perhaps opposing a couple of conservative Democrats in primaries.

But at least it's a limited start, although unions are expected to be entirely silent about Obama's abundant shortcomings toward the workers and oppressed during the campaign. One example among many are the large teacher unions, who oppose the White House education plan but will work hard to get him reelected, as will the entire labor movement.

So far, for all their hundreds of millions of dollars and at least a memory of labor's brave militancy, dramatic strikes and sit-downs, and the righteousness of class struggle, there's not a peep out of the unions about ever launching a serious labor party to represent the interests of the working class, middle class, oppressed minorities and the poorest sector.

Until something much better comes along — and if it's not a labor party what is it? — the union movement seems ready to stick with the middling Democrats for fear of the greater "evil," thus indefinitely prolonging the uncompromised domination of American society by the top 1% and its minions.

This also means that in addition to the long-time wrongs done to the workers' movement that will not be righted, and the pro-worker legislation that will not be fought for by the Democrats, the union movement will be the occasional object of anti-labor shenanigans by its "friends" in Washington as happened this month in the FAA fiasco.

The labor movement is weak these days compared to some earlier periods. But who's to say this will always be the case?

The great labor leader Eugene V. Debs thoroughly understood the extreme problems and serious shortcomings of the union movement, perhaps better than anyone else, and elaborated them all in a 1894 declaration that ends with these words: "Not withstanding all of this, it is today the most vital and potential power this planet has ever known, and its historic mission of emancipating the workers of the world from the thralldom of the ages is as certain of ultimate realization as the setting of the sun."

By Shaun Waterman, Washington Times

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's ... a drone, and it's watching you. That's what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed Feb. 6 to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.

The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

"There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities," said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

[According  to the ACLU, "Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life.... Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a 'surveillance society' in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities."]

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.

The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation's skies by 2020.

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA's feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counter-narcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission....

The FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police and other government agencies and a handful to research institutions, so far, to allow them to fly drones of various kinds over the United States for particular missions.

The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011 and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year, but the FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is "concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies," said attorney Jennifer Lynch. The provision in the legislation is the fruit of "a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones" in American airspace, she added. The group is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications. "We need a list so we can ask [each agency], 'What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?'" Lynch said.

According to Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, "Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates."

The Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the FAA, has announced plans to streamline the certification process for government drone flights this year, Stepanovich said. "We are looking at our options" to oppose that, she added....

The ACLU recently issued a report titled, "Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft. " It is available at]


[What's happening in Syria? Al-Qaeda has now joined the uprising. CNN reports the Pentagon is reviewing U.S military options. Russia has just accused Western states of secretly sending arms and advising the Syrian rebel factions. Republicans are calling for the U.S. to send arms  to the fighters. The following report sheds light on some of these developments. It was written by Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar and appeared Feb. 13.]

By Pepe Escobar

A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for $100. Now it's at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500. Destination of choice: Syria. Auspices:  al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI (al-Qaeda Iraq). Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing Feb. 10 in Aleppo.

Who would have thought that what Saudi Arabia's House of Saud wants in Syria — an Islamist regime — is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?

Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one, in an eight-minute video titled "Onwards, Lions of Syria," has just called for the support of Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to topple Bashar al-Assad's "pernicious, cancerous regime." They had been responding, in kind, even before al-Zawahiri came into the picture. Not only those, but especially transplanted Libyan "freedom fighters," formerly known as "rebels."

Who would have thought that what NATOGCC (North Atlantic Treaty Organization-Gulf Cooperation Council) wants for Syria is exactly what al-Qaeda wants for Syria?

So when the Assad regime, for all its ghastly military offensives that essentially victimize civilians caught in cross fire, says it's fighting "terrorists," it's not exactly bending the truth. Even that ubiquitous, proverbial entity, the unnamed "U.S. official," is blaming AQI for the recent bombings. Same for Iraq's Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi; "We have intelligence information that a number of Iraqi jihadists went to Syria."

So if Syria could not be the new Libya in the sense of a UN resolution authorizing NATO humanitarian bombing — vetoed by Russia and China — Syria is a new Libya in the sense of unsavory ties between the "rebels" and hardcore Salafi-jihadis.

And as the West absolutely loves a win-win situation, no matter how prefabricated, that could also turn into the perfect Pentagon casus belli to intervene — as in freeing Syria from an "al-Qaeda" which was never there in the first place. Remember — for all the hype about the Pentagon/Obama Administration's "pivoting" from the Middle East to East Asia, the global war on terror (GWOT), rebranded by Obama as "overseas contingency operations" (OCO), is still alive and kicking.

[In an article in The Independent UK Feb. 12, Patrick Cockburn wrote: "Short of a serious split in the Syrian army, the opposition forces' best chance of success is to lure outside powers into such a venture. They want a repeat performance of what happened in Libya. The rag-tag militiamen who finally captured Tripoli would have been beaten in a few days without close air support from NATO. But Syria is not Libya, its powerful armed forces have not yet disintegrated, and, most importantly, it is not isolated internationally to anything like the same degree as Gaddafi was.]

Last year, Asia Times Online extensively reported that "liberated" Libya — "liberated" by the so-called NATO rebels — would descend into militia hell. That's exactly what's happening; at least 250 different militias in Misurata alone, according to Human Rights Watch, acting as cops on the beat, judges and exterminators all rolled into one. There's no Ministry of Justice to speak of in "liberated" Libya. If you go to jail, you end up dead; and if you are a sub-Saharan African, you get a bonus of extensive torture at a liberated resort before meeting the same fate.

Just as in Libya, as a matter of strategy, for the House of Saud/Qatar Sunni axis, any possibility of a real dialogue between the (armed) insurrection and the Assad regime has been thwarted. After all; the key objective is regime change. Thus crude propaganda — in an Arab media largely controlled either by Saudis or Qataris — rules.

Example; the much-lauded Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which disgorges  unending, unsubstantiated statistics on government "massacres" — and even "genocide" — gets its funds from a Dubai entity financed by shady Western and GCC donors.

As a bonus, the non-stop "opposition" spin totally laser-guides Western corporate media coverage. CNN attributed the Aleppo bombing to "terrorists" — in quotation marks. The BBC actually believed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood spin according to which the Syrian government bombed itself. As for Arab media, it has totally ignored the AQI connection.

The Arab League — after renouncing its own report on Syria because it didn't fit the prefabricated narrative of an "evil" regime unilaterally bombing its people — is now peddling a supposedly humanitarian plan B: a joint Arab/UN peacekeeping mission to "supervise the execution of a cease-fire." But no one should be fooled; the agenda remains regime change....

By William Astore

Do you believe with President Obama that our military today constitutes a "generation of heroes" and that their teamwork and courage in battle show us the proper path forward in civilian life? Do you believe that the deadly effectiveness of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden should inspire us to put aside differences in politics and to work together as a people?

As a retired veteran, such pro-military rhetoric in the president's state of the union address resonates with me, but as a student of history it makes me more than uncomfortable. In democratic societies, armed forces are funded and fielded to preserve liberties, not to provide templates for personal and societal behavior.

When civil aspirations are guided by and defined within military matrices, one gets the Iraq war of yesterday, the Afghan war of today, and the Iran (or Syria or insert-new-terrorist-nation here) war of tomorrow. Forever war is indeed the price for a nation that glorifies its military as the very best of its people and their ideals.

The kinetic (killing) competency of our military is certainly impressive, yet it's a competency that we must use judiciously and with restraint. When we elevate it as an example of "I've got your back" teamwork that all should be emulating, we tend to devalue diplomacy and the level of patience and perspective our country needs to display in an increasingly turbulent world.

Our dedicated military and its matchless strength should afford us the luxury of being patient and of keeping threats in perspective. But our unbridled extolment of the military -- our deeply personal investment in its power and methods as pointing the way forward in all walks of life -- encourages us instead to deploy our armed forces time and time again. We act impatiently, injudiciously, against threats we often exaggerate.

Iran is the latest such threat that has the drums of war beating. Iran is supposedly an incipient nuclear terrorist; defined as such, the preferred solution for our nation of military enthusiasts is decapitation by kinetic action.

But is the solution really that simple? Past events suggest otherwise. Military enthusiasts like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld believed they could torture and kill their way out of the war on terror. They embarked on a deadly game of "Whac-A-Mole" with results as frustrating as that game. After criticizing them for this, the Obama Administration joined them. Like Michael Corleone in the Godfather saga, we keep whacking our enemies, yet a state of war and terror drags on, insidiously warping our nation's core beliefs and freedoms.

If we continue to focus on whacking terrorists (or terroristic nations), we suppress any chance of charting a less violent, less terrifying, course. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, just when we think we're out of the war on terror, they'll pull us back in.

What we won't recognize is that the "they" doing the pulling will be us. We won't recognize it because we've invested so much of our national hopes and dreams into the killing abilities of our armed forces.

Yet however much we admire their competence in war, we must not allow that competence to inform our attitudes and aspirations for civil society. For when warriors become the civil elite, the role models par excellence, democracy is imperiled.

— William J. Astore writes for  many liberal publications and websites and is a TomDispatch regular. He is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and teaches at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He is the author of "Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism" (Potomac Press, 2005), among other works.

By the Activist Newsletter

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba signed by President John F. Kennedy Feb. 3, 1962. Subsequent punishments include the longstanding travel ban, the CIA's failed 1961 counterrevolutionary invasion, and thousands of acts of subversion and attempted assassinations.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower actually launched some smaller anti-Cuba sanctions in 1960, a year after the Cuban Revolution of Jan. 1, 1959, led by Fidel Castro, head of the July 26 Movement at the time. The revolution ended the reign of U.S. puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista, as well as 60 years of Yankee domination. Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations Jan. 2, 1961, just before Kennedy took office.

Running for office in 2008, Barack Obama declared that he planned to open a new and improved era of U.S.-Cuban relations if he was elected president, but he has done virtually nothing — even though the American people want an end to the embargo and travel ban, and the restoration of diplomatic relations.

According to a poll of Americans published Feb. 6 by Angus Reid Public Opinion organization:

• 62% of respondents agree with re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba (23% disagree); Those who agree with re-instituting bilateral ties include 64% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans.

• 57% of respondents feel it is time to lift the travel ban to the island.

• More than half of Americans, 51%, would lift the trade embargo (29% disagree).

• Only 35% of respondents agree with the policy of the U.S. to support non-governmental groups in Cuba "in order to foster protests against the current regime."

America has continued its anachronistic Cold War antagonism toward Cuba and its communist society long after the dispute with the Soviet Union ended, despite cordial relations with countries such as China and Vietnam.

Last October, for the 20th consecutive year, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly called for an end to Washington's economic blockade. The resolution was adopted 186-2 (the U.S. and Israel).

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla introduced the anti-blockade motion in the General Assembly. He said the embargo has caused nearly a trillion dollars in economic damage over the last half century — a huge sum for a small country of 11 million people. He also noted what was obvious to most of the world's nations: the objective of the embargo is to overthrow the Havana government.

“What the U.S. government wants to see changed will not change,” he stated. "Our elections shall not be auction sales. There shall not be billion dollar electoral campaigns nor a parliament supported by 13% of voters,” he added.

The Obama Administration's Ronald Godard told the General Assembly that the purpose of the sanctions was to support "freedom," and that the economic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is a "bilateral issue" and not the UN's concern. With two exceptions, the world evidently thinks differently.



[Editor's Note: In recent speeches, President Obama suggests he is developing policies to resuscitate U.S. manufacturing and bring jobs back to the U.S. A major element in his thinking is predicated on the current reality that wages are rising in developing countries (such as China) and are falling in the U.S. An example of Obama's intention is the revival of the auto industry in Detroit. As this article shows, lower wages and union givebacks are a big factor in the auto comeback.]

By Laura Flanders

President Obama is, as AP puts it, “wearing his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler three years ago as a badge of honor” on his re-election campaign. It saved jobs and working communities, brought the US auto industry back from the brink. In January, US auto sales were up 11 percent over a year ago, and a proud president was cooing to the college students of Ann Arbor, Michigan:

“The American auto industry was on the verge of collapse and some politicians were willing to let it just die. We said no.… We believe in the workers of this state.”

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the deal that saved Detroit in the next few months, not least because likely opponent Mitt Romney was against it. Then Governor Romney wrote in the fall of 2008 that if the big three auto companies received a bailout, “we can kiss the American auto industry goodbye.” Romney bad; Obama good; Big Three back. The Deal with Detroit is gold dust for Democrats. Reality is a bit more complicated.

For one thing, it was Republican President Bush, not the Democrats’ Barack Obama, who originally decided not to stand by as the auto makers died. The deal saved an industry — US cars are still being made in the US — but it came at such a high price that in many ways it’s a whole new industry. The American auto industry that built middle-class lives as well as cars — that one we kissed good-bye, and it may be a while before we see it back again.

To review: in the fall of 2008, President George W. Bush announced a $17 billion loan, split into $13.4 billion at once and another $4 billion in February. The billions for Detroit were tied tight with all the string that had not been attached to the trillions simply given away to Wall Street. The Treasury never forced the financial industry to hand over majority shareholder control in exchange for access to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. No CEO of AIG or Bank of America or Wells Fargo had to shrink a wage or skimp on a pension. (Far from it, the Government Accountability Office found that the “standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.”)

Big bucks for the Big Three, by contrast, came with all sorts of ties — mostly around the neck of the United Auto Workers and their members. When the deal was finally worked out, under Obama’s “Car Tsar” (a man with zero manufacturing experience but oodles of admiration from N.Y. developer Steve Rattner and Lawrence Summers), the workers' concessions amounted to a slash in labor costs from around $76 per worker-hour in 2006 to just over $50. Abandoning decades of principle, the UAW approved a two-tier wage structure in which new hires start at $14 per hour—roughly half the pay and benefits of more senior line workers. To top things off, Treasury demanded—just one more teeny thing—a strike ban. The pièce de no résistance! Under the government’s agreement with the companies, any strike by workers is grounds for forfeiting the loan.

The timing couldn’t be more poignant. Seventy-five years ago, in the winter of 1936–37, it was a strike at General Motors that won the first victory for the 1-year-old UAW, and won for organized labor the respect that made it possible to negotiate for those middle-class automakers’ lives. Late on December 30, 1936, autoworkers in Flint occupied a General Motors plant, launching a strike that, within less than a month, involved 135,000 workers in thirty-five cities across the country. When the union called for support in early January, 150,000 people showed up at Detroit’s Cadillac Square in a show of solidarity.

The Sit-Down Strike, as it came to be known, ended on February 11, 1937, with a defeat for GM, but for 44 days the company used every tactic to end the occupation. (Take courage, Occupy Wall Street!) In the dead of winter, owners turned off the heat to the occupied plants. Knowing the strikers depended on “solidarity kitchens,” they cut off food delivery. When police moved in on one of the plants in Flint in January, workers pelted officers with engine parts and police fired back tear gas and bullets, sending twenty-eight injured workers to the hospital. Women formed an Emergency Women’s Brigade. The next time police threatened to storm the plant gates, they found their way blocked by women locking arms—the indominatble “Rolling Pin Army.”

The battles of seventy-five years ago forced GM negotiators to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the workers, and for a while at least, factory owners across the country negotiated in fear of a sit-down. Seventy-five years later Obama and the Democrats are cheerleading the deal that saved Detroit — and did away with the right to strike, at least temporarily. Now U.S. auto sales are on the rise and with unemployment what it is, the companies say there’s a line around the block for those $14-per-hour entry-level jobs.

“On the plus side we still have U.S.-based auto production,” says Ed Ott, former chair of the New York Central Labor Council. What are union rights going to be like going forward? “The unions say we’ll build back up. Let’s hope they’re right.”

A more likely scenario is $14-per-hour auto jobs are here to stay. If wages in the United States get low enough, they may even draw jobs back from where they’ve gone. As long as no one is looking to raise their taxes employers will see that offshore wages right here save them the trouble and cost of offshoring. What’s it mean for those workers’ families? Unless their low-wage lives are subsidized by more taxpayer dollars in the form of free or low-cost public services, they’re in for pretty lean years. UAW President Bob King (praised for his “flexibility”) is hopeful union strength will return. Heaven knows how.

Lucky us. We missed it the first time. Now, it looks as if we get to experience the Gilded Age all over again—and in another half century or so, some fed up autoworker may decide to sit down and occupy a factory.

— From The Nation online,

By the Activist Newsletter

A revealing portrayal of U.S. public opinion on key domestic and foreign issues was published Jan. 23  by the Pew Research Center for the People and The Press. There were a number of surprises.

A total of 1,502 Americans were asked, among other questions, to indicate their top priorities for the White House and Congress in 2012 based on 22 specific issues (with an error ratio of 3.5%). 

It was expected that "strengthening the nation's economy" (86%) and "improving the job situation" (82%) would come in first and second, as they did. But it was unexpectedly disappointing — at least for those left of center — that "reforming campaign finance" (28%) and "dealing with global warming" (25%) ended up last (#21 and #22).

Contrary to right wing ranting and gratuitous White House suggestions of bipartisan compromise, 68% regarded "securing Social Security" to be a high priority (#5), and 61% thought the same of "securing Medicare" (#7).

"Improving education was a priority for  65% (#6); 61% agreed with "making the tax system more fair" (#8); 60% backed "reducing healthcare costs" (#9); 52% said "dealing with the problems of the poor and needy" was a priority (#11).

Only 43% considered "protecting the environment" a priority (#14), compared to 63% in 2001, a reflection of increasing conservatism in the U.S. Another minority, 40%, thought it important to "reduce the influence of lobbyists" (#15). Of interest, considering the brouhaha in some quarters about undocumented immigrants, "dealing with immigration" attracted only 38% (#16) compared to 55% five years ago.

Given increasing public awareness of the noxious influence of big money on the electoral process, especially after the Supreme Court's 2008 "Citizens United" decision allowing virtually unlimited campaign contributions, it was astonishing that campaign finance reform dropped from  37% in 2001 to 28% 11 years later.

Just as shocking was the last-place finish of global warming, since a considerably higher percentage believed halting climate change was a policy priority just five years ago before some of the most worrisome warnings were issued. According to the Pew analysis:

"Since it was first tested on the annual policy priorities list in 2007, the share of Americans who view dealing with global warming as a top priority has slipped from 38% to 25%. [This year] Democrats (38%) are far more likely than Republicans (11%) to rate this as a top priority. But the decline has occurred across party lines: In 2007, 48% of Democrats rated dealing with global warming as a top priority, as did 23% of Republicans."

As we noted in the last Activist Newsletter, "In 2002, 75% of the American people correctly believed human activity to be mainly responsible for global warming, but today, the number of Americans who do so has dropped to 44%. This is mainly because of duplicitous propaganda from Big Business, the Republican Party, and the escalation of right wing activism. But the lackadaisical attitude of the Obama Administration is a factor as well. President Obama has never utilized the White House 'bully pulpit' to galvanize the American people into action on this issue in the face of continual conservative climate change denial."

As expected, on most of the priority issues the Republicans were far more right wing in their views. But 71% of GOP voters backed "securing" Social Security as a priority, as did 56% regarding Medicare, compared respectively to 73% and 71% for Democrats. Independents usually .assume a middle position between the two ruling parties, but on these issues they were somewhat more conservative than the Republicans with 66% prioritizing Social Security and 55% doing the same for Medicare.

In terms of the "Top danger to the U.S." (as opposed to policy priorities), those who answered pointed to Iran (28%), up from 12% just one year ago, a product of intensified half truths from Washington and its amplified echo in the mass media. China was second with 22% (20% last year). This will increase, perhaps perilously, unless the White House and Congress modify their intensifying effort to depict the Beijing government as a potential economic and military "threat" to America.

By the Activist Newsletter

“If Congress refuses to act," President Obama declared Feb. 11 in his weekly radio address, "middle class taxes will go up — it's that simple.”

He was speaking about a 10-month renewal of the temporary payroll tax reduction for 160 million working people that is due to expire at the end of February. But it's not "that simple."

The chances are that right/far right Republicans in Congress will finally agree to the extension before the deadline since they are aware that their obstructive antics and pro-1% policies may cost them House seats in November. At this stage they are still demanding great concessions from the Democrats before giving up.

However, there is another side to  the entire matter of reducing the payroll tax.

Many millions of Americans cheered when House Republicans capitulated Dec. 23 and joined the Senate in approving the Obama Administration's two-month payroll tax cut extension eight days before its scheduled expiration. Obama had sought a one-year renewal of the tax cut that went into effect at the beginning of 2011, hence the fight for 10 more months.

There was something to cheer about in the defeat of far right politicians in the House, but in another sense, dipping into the payroll tax is potentially injurious to the Social Security system.

The payroll tax finances Social Security, which nearly all Republican politicians are seeking to dismantle despite its popularity. Their main accusation is that the Social Security fund will run out of money in future decades, necessitating immediate drastic revisions, including privatization.

Last December, before the payroll tax vote, the group Strengthen Social Security (SSS) urged Congress to oppose the measure. This is a coalition of over 300 largely liberal groups representing 50 million members, including the AFL-CIO, and "many of the nation’s leading aging, labor, disability, women’s, children, consumer, civil rights and equality organizations." In addition, 61 House Democrats urged President Obama last July not to extend the payroll tax relief for a second year.

The coalition seems quieter three months later in a year when Obama's seeking reelection, but its critique still holds, as does the recommendation that "A targeted lump-sum tax credit like the 2008 stimulus payment has a variety of advantages over the extension of the  payroll tax cut," particularly "for families with low and modest incomes."

Obama obtained the first one-year payroll tax "holiday," along with an extension of emergency unemployment benefits, in December 2010 negotiations with Congressional Republicans. The GOP price was a two-year extension of former President Bush's decade-long tax cuts, which largely benefited millionaires and have so far reduced government revenues by over $1.35 trillion.

The payroll measure reduces the amount taken out of paychecks from 6.2% to 4.2% for 160 million workers, providing them on average with about $900 extra dollars in a year. The 6.2% employers pay into the fund for each employee does not change. The approximately $115 billion not collected in taxes during 2011 are supposed to be restored to the Social Security fund through Treasury credits or interest on its bonds. Another $20 billion wasn't collected in January-February.

In addition to the payroll measure, Congress continued unemployment benefits and postponed cuts in Medicare payments for doctors — which are associated with the bill — until the end of this month. They, too, are up for renewal in the same package. Republicans have added several right wing riders to the bill, which may or may not remain in the final settlement.

Congressional conferees are running out of time. Democrats seek a deal by Feb. 17 because  Congress is supposed to adjourn the week of Feb. 20 for the President's Day recess. Here's where both sides stand on a couple of the key issues, according to a recent article in

"Democrats want to tack on a surtax for millionaire earners, which would pay for the temporary 2% payroll tax cut, and they don’t want unemployment insurance offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Republicans are opposed to higher taxes and instead want the package paid for by freezing pay for federal workers, imposing higher premiums for upper-income Medicare beneficiaries and banning millionaires from receiving jobless benefits and food stamps, among other options."

Strengthen Social Security maintains that withdrawing funds from Social Security is a dangerous precedent, given the conservative political climate. They maintain that equal funding could have been obtained elsewhere. Many liberal economists say the payroll cut is far from the amount required to adequately stimulate the lagging American economy and won't make a big dent in unemployment.

Obama says he supports Social Security but during last summer's dismal squabble about the deficit and taxes he voluntarily offered to "put everything on the table" for the budget cutters, including Social Security as well as Medicare and Medicaid. The Congressional Progressive Caucus  howled but was ignored. Mass public pressure forced Obama to hedge his bets.. He left the matter for the congressional "super committee" to decide. The committee failed miserably in almost everything it did, so America's three key social programs remain intact — for now.

Given that the Strengthen Social Security coalition is pro-Democratic, its appeal to Congress last fall to reject Obama's payroll tax cut was polite but quite firm:

"We strongly support the President’s efforts to stimulate the economy and to extend tax cuts, tax credits and unemployment protections to low- and middle-income Americans, but a payroll tax 'holiday' is the wrong way to do it. The proposal could significantly jeopardize the broad protections that Social Security provides to America’s working families. Other approaches, which would not affect Social Security, are more stimulative, targeted, and equitable, place no administrative burdens on employers, and don’t require the transfer of $120 billion from general revenues to Social Security. 

"Using Treasury funds to pay for a payroll tax 'holiday' is unprecedented in Social Security’s 75-year history — and dangerous.  Social Security is very popular with the public because workers pay dedicated contributions and count on the promise of Social Security to be there when they retire, become disabled or die, thereby leaving their benefits to their survivors.
"The current debate over the Bush tax cuts illustrates how difficult it is to return taxes to original levels once tax cuts have been enacted, even when the law includes an expiration date.... A far better approach that would not jeopardize Social Security is to provide a more targeted stimulus, without new administrative costs for employers, such as a tax credit, similar to the “Making Work Pay Tax Credit” included in the last stimulus package.  If such a proposal is not possible, we urge you, at a minimum to ensure that there is a clear phase-out of the tax break and a 'hold harmless provision' to ensure the Social Security Trust Fund retains its current solvency. We also urge that you not describe this policy change as a 'holiday,' and instead make clear that this is a one-time transfer from general revenues."

The main point for those who have worries about the payroll cut is the precedent. A Dec. 22 Salon article by Josh Bivens noted that it "provides a political hammer to opponents of Social Security who can claim that the cut has depleted the program’s Trust Fund ahead of schedule, requiring cuts in benefits. These opponents are wrong, of course: the legislation that cut the payroll tax also instructed Treasury to credit the fund for the lost revenue — but since when has being factually wrong defanged a political argument? And who’s to say that the next year of payroll tax cuts will maintain this commitment to hold the fund whole?"

According to Jai Lynn Yang writing in the Washington Post Dec. 30: "The prospect of policymakers continually turning to the payroll tax as a way of providing economic stimulus troubles experts, some lawmakers and both public trustees of the Social Security trust fund. Their concern: that Social Security will lose its status as a protected benefit owed to every working American and instead become politically vulnerable, just like any other government program."

— The Website for Strengthen Social Security,

By Bill Moyers

We’ve already made our choice for the best headline of the year, so far:  “Citigroup Replaces JPMorgan as White House Chief of Staff.”

When we saw it on the website we had to smile — but the smile didn’t last long. There’s simply too much truth in that headline; it says a lot about how Wall Street and Washington have colluded to create the winner-take-all economy that rewards the very few at the expense of everyone else.

The story behind it is that Jack Lew is President Obama’s new chief of staff — arguably the most powerful office in the White House that isn’t shaped like an oval. He used to work for the giant banking conglomerate Citigroup. His predecessor as chief of staff is Bill Daley, who used to work at the giant banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase, where he was maestro of the bank’s global lobbying and chief liaison to the White House. Daley replaced Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who once worked as a rainmaker for the investment bank now known as Wasserstein & Company, where in less than three years he was paid a reported eighteen and a half million dollars.

The new guy, Jack Lew – said by those who know to be a skilled and principled public servant – ran hedge funds and private equity at Citigroup, which means he’s a member of the Wall Street gang, too. His last job was as head of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, where he replaced Peter Orzag, who now works as vice chairman for global banking at – hold on to your deposit slip — Citigroup.

Still with us? It’s startling the number of high-ranking Obama officials who have spun through the revolving door between the White House and the sacred halls of investment banking. Sure, you can argue that it makes sense that the chief executive of the nation would look to other executives for the expertise you need to build back from the disastrous collapse of the banks in the final year of the Bush Administration. Remember — it was Bush and Cheney with their cronies in big business who helped walk us right into the blast furnace of financial meltdown, then rushed to save the banks with taxpayer money. That little fact seems to have been overlooked in the current primaries.

All this brings back memories of Hank Paulson, doesn’t it? Hank Paulson, the $700 million man who became secretary of the treasury for President Bush. Paulson had been head of Goldman Sachs, the rich investment bank. As his successor at Goldman Sachs, Paulson chose Lloyd Blankfein. Several times, according to Bloomberg News, Rolling Stone, and Paulson’s own memoir, the treasury secretary made sure Blankfein and Goldman got privileged inside information.

But Bush and Cheney aren’t the only ones to have a soft spot for financiers. President Obama may call bankers “fat cats” and stir the rabble against them with populist rhetoric when it serves his interest, but after the fiscal fiasco, he allowed the culprits to escape virtually scot-free. When he’s in New York he dines with them frequently and eagerly accepts their big contributions. Like his predecessors, his administration also has provided them with billions of taxpayer dollars – low-cost money that they used for high-yielding investments to make big profits. The largest banks are bigger than they were when he took office and earned more in the first two-and-a-half years of his term than they did during the entire eight years of the Bush administration. That’s confirmed by industry data.

And get this. It turns out, according to The New York Times, that as President Obama’s inner circle has been shrinking, his “rare new best friend” is Robert Wolf. They play basketball, golf, and talk economics when Wolf is not raising money for the president’s campaign.

Robert Wolf runs the U.S. branch of the giant Swiss bank UBS, which participated in schemes to help rich Americans evade their taxes. During hearings in 2009, Michigan’s Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the permanent subcommittee on investigations, described some of the tricks used by UBS: “Swiss bankers aided and abetted violations of U.S. tax law by traveling to this country with client code names, encrypted computers, counter- surveillance training, and all the rest of it, to enable U.S. residents to hide assets and money in Swiss accounts.

“The bankers then returned to Switzerland and treated their conduct as blameless since Swiss law says tax evasion is no crime. The Swiss bank before us deliberately entered the United States, actively sought U.S. clients and secretly helped those U.S. clients defraud the United States of America.”

And so it goes, the revolving door between government service and big money in the private sector spinning so fast it becomes an irresistible force hurling politics and high finance together so completely it’s impossible to tell one from the other.

This Jan. 22 article is nearly the same as the text that opened the Jan. 20 “Moyers & Company,” an hour-long TV program hosted by journalist Bill Moyers and distributed by American Public Television. The weekly program is being carried by some — though not all — PBS stations. Repeats of these programs may be viewed at the website,

By the Activist Newsletter

Nationwide demonstrations in opposition to threats against Iran by the U.S. and Israel took place in dozens of cities and towns Feb. 4. The slogan of the day was “No War On Iran: No intervention, no sanctions, no assassination.” The events were sponsored by scores of peace and left groups.

Most of the actions were relatively small, a reflection of the reduced size of the peace movement since the Obama Administration took power, although the wars are continuing and the possibility of an attack on Iran is mounting. It is at such moments, when talk of war resounds in belligerent capitals, that antiwar action is essential, whether people come out in the thousands, the hundreds or the tens.

Following is an alphabetical partial list of some of the protests compiled by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which we shortened for publication. There are many more about which we do not have information.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Protesters joined a militant picket line initiated by ANSWER to protest U.S. war threats against Iran. It drew over 65 people who joined in solidarity with the National Day of Action. Taking part were activists from Veterans for Peace, Stop the War Machine, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine.

CHICAGO — Over 150 people came out to support the call for a National Day of Action against a war on Iran. There was a short rally at Federal Plaza with all speakers denouncing sanctions and U.S. threats against the Iranian people. After the rally, there was a march up State Street in downtown Chicago to bring the antiwar message to the people. The protest was endorsed by groups from across the city of Chicago including the American Muslim Alliance, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Chicago Area Peace Action, Chicago World Can’t Wait, Code Pink, Committee Against Political Repression, Gay Liberation Network, Midwest Anti-War Mobilization and ANSWER.

NEW HAVEN, CONN. —  Some 60 people gathered for a rally organized by ANSWER at the steps of the Federal Building in New Haven, demanding “No War on Iran.” Speakers came from regional groups including Occupy New Haven, UNAC, Middle East Crisis Committee, the Peace Council and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

NEW YORK — Up to 500 antiwar and Occupy Wall Street activists gathered in Times Square in a show of unity against a war on Iran. Because of the urgent nature and speed in which the demonstration was put together there was no permit; therefore, protesters used the "people's mic" to amplify the message of the dozens of organizations who gave solidarity statements to the crowd before the march began. Debra Sweet from World Can't Wait chaired the event and many organizations showed their militant and steadfast defense of the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran to live free from the influence of Wall Street and the U.S. government's never-ending quest for markets and profits. After the rally, protesters marched loudly and without a permit to another rally in front of the United Nations.

NEW YORK STATE — Demonstrations also took place Feb. 4 in  ALBANY, BUFFALO, ROCHESTER and SARATOGA.

LOS ANGELES — Close to 300 people attended a rally on the busy street corner of Wilshire and Western. Students, workers, Occupy LA protesters and veterans came out, chanting "No new war in Iran" and "Troops out of Afghanistan." Sha Azedi, an organizer with ANSWER, spoke at the rally, defending Iran’s right to sovereignty and condemning the demonization of the country as propaganda for U.S. imperialism. Other speakers represented the National Lawyers Guild, veterans from March Forward! and organizers from Code Pink.

PHOENIX, ARIZ. — About 50 activists gathered at Cesar Chavez Plaza for a demonstration called by ANSWER and endorsed by a wide variety of progressive organizations. An opening rally was held where speakers condemned the campaign of demonization against the people of Iran carried out by the corporate media. After the rally concluded, a march proceeded toward central Phoenix, near stores, convention centers and surrounding financial buildings.

RICHMOND, VA.—  Long-time antiwar activists and new people alike gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse on East Broad St. for a 12 noon demonstration to demand an end to U.S. aggression against Iran. Numbering around 30 people, the protesters held signs saying “No war on Iran,” and “We need jobs and schools—Not war.”

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Dozens of activists demonstrated their opposition to the threat of aggression against Iran at the Memorial Auditorium in down town Sacramento.

SAN FRANCISCO — About 600 protesters gathered at Powell and Market Streets to express their opposition to the escalated U.S. and Israeli aggression toward Iran and to counter the demonization campaign against the country. An enormous hand-made banner reading “No War on Iran” was visible from blocks away and dramatically conveyed the essential message of the demonstration to passersby. The crowd was diverse and made up of different political forces. Occupy San Francisco endorsed and promoted the action, and many Occupy protesters took part.

SEATTLE —  Over 100 people gathered in the  downtown area for a street rally to demand “No War on Iran!” Jane Cutter of ANSWER and Emma Kaplan from World Can't Wait co-chaired the rally. Other speakers represented Courage To Resist, March Forward and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Participants included many veterans, Iranian-Americans and Occupy Seattle activists. Following the rally, demonstrators took to the streets in a spirited march.

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  As part of the National Day of Action to oppose a new war on Iran, ANSWER initiated a protest in front of the White House. A huge picket line was formed by the antiwar activists, Iranian-Americans and others who joined. A featured speaker was William Blum, author of "Killing Hope" and "Rogue State," who has written extensively about Iran.



[Following is Liberation newspaper's Black History Month profile of Lucy Parsons — labor activist, writer and revolutionary  — which appeared on its website Feb. 7.]

By Caneisha Mills

Women of every oppressed nationality are often at the helm of revolutionary movements. Unfortunately, the contributions of women are frequently dismissed or forgotten.

The legacy and revolutionary spirit of Lucy Parsons is a constant reminder of the sacrifice, dedication and leadership provided by female activists. The Chicago Police Department described her as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.”

Lucy Gonzalez was born in 1853 in Texas. In 1871, she married Albert Parsons, a writer and fellow radical. Her African-American/Indian/Mexican heritage endangered their lives as an interracial couple in the South. In 1873, they moved to Chicago.

Upon their arrival, the couple became deeply involved in the fight against injustice. Working with the Social Democratic Party and the Workingmen’s Party of the United States, Lucy wrote for the WPUSA’s paper and became a lecturer and activist in her own right.

Due to their heavy political involvement, Albert Parsons was blacklisted. In response, Lucy became the primary financial provider for the family by opening a dress shop.

Lucy and Albert were leaders of a strike in Chicago on May 1, 1886, in support of the eight-hour workday. However, Lucy believed: “[T]he eight-hour day is antiquated. … Today we should be agitating for a five-hour workday.” A few days later, a bomb exploded as police dispersed a rally in Chicago's Haymarket Square. Police blamed Albert, Lucy and other leaders for the ensuing violent confrontation in which seven police officers were killed and many others present were killed or wounded; activists were arrested and charged for the incident.

Lucy rose to fame in the labor movement for her defense of the eight arrested activists. Albert Parsons, and four other activists were executed in 1887 on charges they had conspired in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, which ultimately led to the international celebration of May Day in subsequent years .

Widowed with two children, Parsons remained in the struggle. In 1892, she founded the paper Freedom, and continued to advocate, write and organize against the oppression of working people.

In 1905, she helped form the Industrial Workers of the World. She was a founding member of the Chicago chapter and wrote for the organization’s paper. Drafted as a speaker at the IWW founding convention, Lucy used this opportunity to speak to the tactics required to end oppression and for success in strikes and outlined her vision:

"Now, what do we mean when we say revolutionary Socialist?

"We mean that the land shall belong to the landless, the tools to the toiler, and the products to the producers.... I believe that if every man and every woman who works, or who toils in the mines, mills, the workshops, the fields, the factories and the farms of our broad America should decide in their minds that they shall have that which of right belongs to them, and that no idler shall live upon their toil.... Then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army."

Lucy continued to fight for the rights of all up until her death in 1942. Her focus was always on the eradication of oppression of all working people through the defeat of capitalism.

By Toni Feder, Physics Today

Receiving an email with a statement like “You should resign, and if you don’t, I’ll work to see that you are fired” or “I know where your kids go to school” would be unsettling enough. But they “pale compared to what other climate scientists are getting,” says Raymond Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, at whom the first threat above was aimed.

Now climate scientists — in atmospheric physics and chemistry, geophysics, meteorology, hydrology, and oceanography, among other disciplines — have begun to fight back. “I think the community is finding a voice,” says Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose work has largely focused on identifying the human influence on global climate, and who once answered a late-night knock to find a dead rat on his doorstep.

Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is happening, although details of how it will play out are uncertain. Every few years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a report prepared by hundreds of scientists and government officials from around the world; the next is due out in 2014. The latest, published in 2007, says that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid 20th century is due to human activities, and that past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to warming and sea-level rise for more than a millennium.

Yet deniers have hampered efforts to tackle climate change, and their actions, especially in North America, the UK, and Australia, have led to climate researchers being investigated by their governments, suffering nervous breakdowns, and spending time and money defending their rights and reputations.

Harassment of climate scientists by climate-change deniers goes back at least to 1995, after the IPCC published its Second Assessment Report. Santer was the lead author of chapter 8, which looked at the causes of climate change. “The single sentence ‘The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate’ changed my life,” he says. “I was the guy who was associated with this sentence. Those who did not like that finding did everything not only to undermine the finding but also to undermine my scientific reputation.”

The harassment has ramped up in recent years, says Michael Mann of the Pennsylvania State University, whose book "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines," due to be published by Columbia University Press in early March, includes a retelling of his own ongoing experiences with harassment. “Political intimidation, character attacks, what appear to be orchestrated phone and email campaigns, nasty and thinly veiled threats, not just to us but to our families, are what it means in modern American life to be a climate scientist,” says Mann.

Even this magazine, after publishing last October articles on the science of climate change — about its being under fire and about communicating that science to the public — received an abundance of letters with the tenor, “How could Physics Today print such a one-sided portrayal of climate science when many reputable scientists disagree?”

Fossil-fuel interests, says Gavin Schmidt, a climate researcher at NASA, “have adopted a shoot-the-messenger approach. It’s been a very successful strategy. They have created a chilling effect, so other [scientists] won’t say what they think and the conversation in public stays bereft of anyone who knows what they are talking about.” Schmidt co-founded, a forum for climate scientists to “provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary.” Meanwhile, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a vocal opponent to limiting greenhouse gas emissions, is suing NASA for the release of Schmidt’s personal emails.

Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says he has seen young scientists get a surge of nasty emails when they publish on climate change. “They are flabbergasted. A lot of the community is unaware this is happening.” And, he notes, the people who send the emails have “gotten off scot-free.”

Although direct correlation is difficult to prove, climate scientists point to governmental inaction to exemplify deniers’ successes. The U.S. never signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and in December Canada became the first country to withdraw from the agreement. Public concern about climate change is volatile, and the U.S. and many other governments have dragged their feet on requiring emissions reductions. “Burning fossil fuels has consequences for air quality, acid rain, climate change,” says Trenberth. “The biggest problem is that [the U.S.] has not put a price on carbon. There ought to be a cost attached [to emissions] to compensate future generations for all the environmental and health damages, especially those damages yet to come.”

“We as a society have suffered lost opportunities due to the climate change denial movement,” says Mann. “If their goal has been to mortgage the lives of their children and grandchildren, then the campaign has been successful. It has certainly set back efforts to curtail emissions.” It hasn’t helped, he says, that the media have often been one-sided or inaccurate in their coverage of deniers’ attacks on climate change.

Still, climate scientists say they don’t think the denier movement has discouraged people from doing climate-related research. “I hope not,” says Santer. “It would be a sad outcome if it deterred people from working on these critically important issues.”

Santer’s approach to false claims is to set the record straight. For example, when some scientists claimed that global warming has stopped and that computer models cannot simulate decade-long periods with little or no warming, Santer and colleagues showed that simulations can indeed produce such hiatus periods.

“I have tried to do the science necessary to address extraordinary and incorrect claims of no warming or no human influence," Santer says. "I don’t think we have the luxury of letting such false claims go unchallenged. If our elected representatives are to take wise decisions on how to address climate change, they need access to the best scientific information, not to wishful thinking and misinformation."....

Climate scientists have gotten some good publicity. Most prominent was the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which was shared by Al Gore and the IPCC “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

New annual prizes for climate change communication were created last year by the American Geophysical Union and Climate One, a radio and TV program from the Commonwealth Club of California. And the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in June issued a rare statement saying they were “deeply concerned” by the attacks on climate scientists.

The “hostile environment” created by the attacks, the statement continued, “both impedes the progress of science and interferes with the applications of science to the solution of global problems.” The AAAS statement was a way to “fight back,” says Orbach, who is on the board of directors.

One new development is the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, which features more than 140 climate scientists plus a few historians and economists on call to provide information to journalists and lawmakers. Trenberth, a member of the team, says, “[We] provide rebuttal, response, and clarification” to misleading reports in the media.

This past September, rapid response team cofounder Scott Mandia and others launched the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. The nonprofit group raises money for climate scientists embroiled in legal battles. As of December, it had raised more than $20 000 for Mann, who is fighting Freedom of Information Act demands by the American Tradition Institute think tank for 5,000 pages of his email correspondence. The fund also offers informal counseling to harassed climate scientists and plans to hire a staff attorney to offer quick and experienced help.

“Many scientists think they can win by blocking punches. You have to throw them,” says Mandia, who teaches physical sciences at New York’s Suffolk County Community College. “The main thing is that the world understands there is a group that will defend climate scientists who are being harassed."

— Physics Today is at


By Jason Ditz,

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit Feb. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, complaining that the Obama Administration failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relating to the assassinations of three U.S. citizens in Yemen.

The ACLU condemned “the government’s self-serving attitude toward transparency,” arguing that the administration publicly and loudly releases bits of information related to the assassinations but declines to provide the full story, claiming the killings were “secret.”

The requests centered around the Sept. 30 assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born Muslim cleric that the administration regularly claimed was a “terrorist,” as well as his teenage son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and U.S. citizen Samir Khan. The ACLU sought information on the process through which the Obama Administration decides who lives and who dies, as well as on the legal rationale for “kill lists.”

The administration appears not to have responded to the requests, even to claim that the data was classified. The ACLU is preemptively arguing that the “secrecy” claim is not reasonable given the many relevant public comments made by President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta.


[The January issue of Church & State magazine, the publication of Americans United, contains an article on the "top 10 threats" to church-state separation facing the U.S. in 2012. Following are substantial excerpts.]

By Simon Brown

You don’t have to look far or wide to see signs that the Religious Right was resurgent in 2011.

From the halls of Congress, where the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly urged public schools to post “In God We Trust” displays in classrooms, to the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that was attended by 3,000 fundamentalist Christian activists, the Religious Right’s influence loomed large.

Since 2012 is an election year, we expect the Religious Right to use this growing influence to wage an all-out war to shape the U.S. government into a body that will do its bidding.

With that in mind, here are 10 of the biggest challenges, issues and concerns that Americans United expects to confront in the coming twelve months.

1. Improper Involvement of Religion in the 2012 Elections

Religion has infiltrated the run-up to the 2012 elections on an unprecedented level. Virtually all of the Republican presidential candidates have spent considerable time courting votes from the Religious Right. Nearly all of the major contenders spoke at the Values Voter Summit, and most of those candidates also appeared at a forum in November focusing on “questions of the soul” that was held at a fundamentalist church in Iowa.

The Religious Right is also making a serious push to pick the Republican candidate for president. The Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October, an event designed to encourage churches to engage in illegal campaign intervention....

Religious Right strategists dream of forging fundamentalist and evangelical churches into a disciplined voting bloc to effectively dominate the democratic process....

2. School Voucher Onslaught in the States and Congress

The Associated Press reported that 30 states explored voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, and that number is expected to grow this year. These efforts have been driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice, which advocates for vouchers nationwide and is run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos. Her organization and its allies provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers in many states.

DeVos has lots of help from the Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy because parochial schools and fundamentalist academies would be the primary beneficiary of “school choice” programs....

3. The Catholic Bishops’ Crusade for ‘Religious Liberty’

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a formidable new lobbying unit known as the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The committee claims to be defending religious liberty, but critics say it actually seeks to preserve taxpayer funding for church-affiliated agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from various laws....

The Pew Research Center found that Catholic lobbying organizations are the most powerful among Washington religious lobbies as they comprise 19 percent of all faith lobbying. As a result, the Ad Hoc Committee will certainly be one to watch in 2012.

4. Improper Religious Proselytizing in Public Schools

Some elements of the Religious Right hate the public school system because it doesn’t allow them to indoctrinate students with their version of Christianity. As a result, they look to add prayer or other religious activities to the school schedule whenever they can.

In Missouri, for example, voters will face a religion amendment on the 2012 ballot that, if passed, would open the door for religious activities on any and all public property, including schools. The proposal is so open-ended that school children might have the right to refuse to do homework on religious grounds.

In Florida, a bill is advancing through the state legislature that would let local school boards allow students to offer prayers at school events. Originally the measure stated that the prayers must be non-sectarian but that language was removed....

5. ‘Faith-Based’ Funding and Hiring Bias

Despite pleas from Americans United and allies, President Obama has yet to act on his campaign promise to make major civil rights and civil liberties improvements to the Bush “faith-based” initiative. Speaking in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, he said, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion.”

6. Government Promotion of Religious Symbols

In an election year, politicians often look for easy ways to show their religiosity and that has already begun at both the state and federal levels. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution in November that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings. The action came even though, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) pointed out, no one had suggested that this is not already the motto of the United States....

Another religious display issue has arisen in Montana, where a large statue of Jesus erected by the Knights of Columbus sits on national forest land. The U.S. Forest Service had planned to remove the statue, but is facing resistance not only from the Knights but also from U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who wants to save it....

7. Attacks on Religious Minorities

The Religious Right says frequently that America is a Christian nation (despite ample evidence to the contrary), so anyone who doesn’t share that movement’s belief in its special brand of Christianity is often marginalized.

The best example of attempts by the Religious Right to marginalize minorities is anti-sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” which bars enforcement of Islamic law. It received 70% of the vote. Church-state experts note that the U.S. Constitution already bars government support for religion in most cases, so such legislation is unnecessary.

8. The Marriage War

The Religious Right, along with the Catholic hierarchy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), are out to fashion state marriage policy so it reflects their doctrinal teachings. They are firmly committed to the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman only, and they are fighting in the courts, in the statehouses and in Congress to make sure the law continues to define marriage according to their theology.

The highest profile case is the challenge to California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage that is working its way through the federal court system. More than 40 states have already banned same-sex marriage, but the outcome of this case could set a precedent for reversing that trend. The Supreme Court may take up the issue in 2012....

9. ‘Personhood’ Amendments

Multiple states have faced attacks from groups seeking to pass “personhood” amendments, and that trend looks to continue in 2012. The latest state to consider one of these amendments is Mississippi, which voted it down in November. Had the measure passed, it would have declared fertilized eggs to be people, made abortion illegal in virtually all instances, including cases of rape and incest, and it would have banned some forms of birth control. So broad was the language of the amendment that women who miscarried could have been subjected to criminal investigations.

Keith Mason, co-founder of Personhood USA, which is a sponsor of these amendments, has said that his organization may attempt another shot at a Mississippi ballot initiative and that his organization is pushing for “personhood” amendments on the 2012 ballots in Ohio, Florida, Montana, Oregon, California and Nevada.

10. Religiously Based Censorship

The Religious Right is always on the lookout for books, movies, artwork and other aspects of culture to ban based on their religious convictions. In late 2010, Speaker John Boehner and his allies called for the removal of an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery after they learned that it contains a short video of a crucifix with ants crawling on it, as well as works of art with sexual themes. The museum bent to Boehner’s pressure and removed the video.

In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles that are contrary to the Bible.

— The American's United website is at